Leveling off – it can be done better.
As I have written about the importance of dose in espresso, I realized that I have forgotten about some of the issues that I had at first with it. The exact number of grams has a huge impact on the taste of espresso. Some coffees are best with a fourteen gram dose and others are designed to be at their best with a twenty one gram dose.
The dose controls the flow rate. If you have less coffee the shot will flow faster and by contrast, if you have more coffee the shot will flow slower.
If you, for example, have a stepped grinder with steps so big that you cannot get the shot to pull within the time frame you want (often 24-30 seconds) and it is always either too fast or too slow, you can use dose to adjust the flow rate.
Obviously this is not the perfect solution since dose affects the taste of coffee and flow rate affects the taste of coffee, so you would in a perfect world get to pick your dose and your flow rate as you see (or better yet taste) fit. With most higher end grinders they are either stepless (you can adjust as little as you like) or have such small steps that they are essentially stepless.
One problem with specifying a dose, though, is that you cannot do this if you use the most obvious distribution technique, which is “fill and strike” in other words you fill the portafilter basket and then strike off any excess coffee that rises above the lip of the basket. This will dictate the dose and ideally we want to dictate the dose ourselves.
The next option is, of course, to just fill the basket with the quantity of coffee you want, tamp, and go, but this does not work perfectly either because it is essential for good coffee that the bed of coffee be fairly evenly distributed.
I will write about some of the better ways to level off a basket while controlling the dose in the next few days/blog posts.
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